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Southwest’s Ex-Hawaiian Exec At Congress While CEO AWOL

It’s ironic that Southwest’s network failure, which resulted in 16,000 canceled flights, will be addressed in Congress next week by none other than a former key executive of competitor Hawaiian Airlines. That happens on Thursday when COO Andrew Watterson, the guru behind everything to do with Southwest Hawaii, testifies before the US Senate Commerce Committee about the company’s $800 million meltdown that impacted more than a million passengers.

“Strengthening Airline Operations and Consumer Protections” Hearing.

The hearing will include others, including the head of the Southwest Pilots Association, a spokesperson for the Airlines For America trade association, and the head of the Flyers’ Rights advocacy group. It looks to be contentious. Where in the world is the CEO?

Southwest’s CEO has a prior commitment.

Andy Watterson will testify on behalf of Southwest, and knowing him, he’ll undoubtedly do an excellent job. On the other hand, the committee had specifically requested that Southwest CEO Bob Jordan testify.

Strangely it’s been reported that Jordan has a previous commitment and will be speaking to employees a day earlier in nearby Baltimore. The distance between Baltimore and Washington, DC, is some 35 miles.

Recently, the airline said of Watterson, “Andrew has been working in lockstep with Bob as Southwest manages recovery efforts. As Southwest’s chief operating officer, Andrew is exceptionally well positioned to address the topics covered at the hearing.” On that point, we’d concur.

Pilots’ Union heading in another direction from Southwest.

As Southwest is quickly trying to modernize previously antiquated technologies, their pilot’s union said the company “is using outdated technology and processes, really from the ’90s, that can’t keep up with the network complexity today.”

But Watterson proclaimed that the SWA crew scheduling system didn’t fail but rather simply “couldn’t keep up with the pace of cancellations at the height of the weather disruption.”

Not only that but lawsuits and government scrutiny are bringing more unwanted attention to the United State’s largest airline operation (per USDOT, based on domestic originating passenger market share). USDOT will determine if Southwest’s problems were exacerbated by “unrealistic scheduling” during the holidays.

The government’s first priority, according to Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, is to make sure that those passengers impacted by the meltdown are taken care of.

Southwest shoring up infrastructure inadequacies.

SWA just announced that Lauren Woods would take the helm as Senior VP and Chief Information Officer. With SWA for some 13 years, she’s been strategic in much of Southwest’s technology improvement, including cloud-based systems and transforming their critical enterprise data platforms. As is traditional at SW, she’s made her way up the ranks after earning a BS in Business and Marketing at Cornell.

Bob Jordan said that “Lauren’s vast experience has prepared her well for this important role, as she’s built a stellar reputation for being an innovative and transformational leader in our Technology Department and throughout the Company.”

Lack of forthcoming communication: a fundamental failure.

CEO Jordan recently denied that a lack of tech infrastructure was to blame. He said that was “the biggest misconception.” Rather he referred to it as a “weather event that turned into a crew and aircraft routing network event, that then pushed the technology to a point that it couldn’t help us because it was having to solve problems that were already in the past — but it wasn’t a technology event.”

Semantics perhaps, but seemingly counter-productive at this point for a company which, while it has excelled in so many things, has failed miserably for years in technology improvements.

Also, remember that the other airlines did not suffer the same catastrophic meltdown that hit Southwest during severe winter weather.

Jordan was revealing when he said, “You always wonder whether you communicated fast enough. We were very quick to communicate internally every single day, but I think, did we communicate externally quickly enough.” Clearly, Southwest did not. It took some three days into the disaster before Jordan commented on the situation. Let’s see how this all plays out before the Senate Committee this coming week.

When Southwest came to Hawaii, technology problems were rife.

When the airline arrived in the islands, they said it wasn’t yet possible to route people from or to any cities further away from Hawaii than Phoenix. That struck us as odd for an enormous carrier with a vast national network.

SWA said then that was due to limitations with their reservation system. Even though that limitation has disappeared through Southwest’s move to a robust new system, they have still, years later, never scheduled redeye flights to Hawaii or anywhere else.

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18 thoughts on “Southwest’s Ex-Hawaiian Exec At Congress While CEO AWOL”

  1. A little more on inter island. They dispatch from the mainland, the planes are in from the mainland for a day and actually are not ideal for inter island flying, The engines were not designed for it, thy don’t have a maint hanger or full support for the fleet, crews are inexperienced in Hawaii, etc. Shades of their philosophy on tech support.

  2. What am I missing here? How can Jordon say with a straight face that the technology is fine but the problems were as a result of bad weather? Are they a fair weather only airline and can only handle so much bad weather before being overwhelmed?? Here in Hawaii they operate the inter island flights with minimal support. Wonder what else they are scrimping on.

  3. Southwest is and has a history of being Southworst. In pending lawsuits against the airline, expect another semantic bait n switch as SWA CEO appropriated in his alternate defense of recent failures, that SWA issues were due to weather and their cascading effects, not outdated SWA technologies. Expect another sematic word play cleverly stating, you get what you pay for, in essence, blaming the victims.
    Buyer Beware, you book with a cattle carrier, expect to be treated like cattle.

  4. I’m mostly a database guy – spent a decade working at Oracle, and decades working with other database companies. A long time ago we understood that that when “cheap” companies asked us to help them implement projects they would always under-specify computer performance requirements. Then when things went wrong they would blame us – even though we met their “cheap” performance specifications. So Larry Ellison himself required that any big contract test the system being rolled out until it failed, so that we could tell the customer when the system would fail and why, and then it would be their decision. So I’ve seen this all before – cost-cutting has real-world consequences.

    1. Larry Ellison owns 98% of the island of Lanai. How’s that for State of Hawaii selling its soul to corporate interests, eh? Sorry, nothing to do with Southwest Airlines’ shenanigans, but I just felt the need to vent. Carry-on…

      1. For a few years I tried being “management” instead of just being a technical guy. I was part of a PM team responsible for recommending things for Larry to be “interested” in doing or donating money to. For example, our research showed that CEOs routinely read Sailing magazines – thus Larry became interested in Sailing in order to be interesting to other CEOs – he wanted anybody to accept his phone call so that he could sell Oracle products. He didn’t set foot on a boat until the press noticed that he was never on the water. He isn’t really interested in all the things people think – it is based on our evaluation of “inches” of media coverage worldwide and the readership of that media.

  5. My wife and I are researching and planing a move to Oahu a year from
    now to retire. Paying cash for housing and living modestly
    seem to be key. Any suggestion from those that have recently made
    the relocation to Hawaii? Thank You for your comments.

    1. Ride a bike, not a car.
      Live in a walkable neighborhood.
      Modify your mainland expectations: things take longer and cost more here.

  6. Aloha; SWA is engaged in the oldest marketing scam in the books. “If you don’t like what is being said, change the conversation”. They stole thousands of family hawaiian vacations during the Holidays because of their greed for profits over good customer care. SWA is now promoting “free” 25,000 miles, a low fare “sale”, new “family” seating policy. They won’t answer questions about refunds, saying that they are considering “reasonable” requests. The CEO won’t testify I congress. They are hoping that passengers will forget and come back and fly again. Time will tell.

  7. The issue of why southwest does not schedule Hawaii flights further east than Phoenix is based on a policy decision that nowhere in the entire southwest system would there be red eye flights.

  8. “Clearly, Southwest did not. It took some three days into the disaster before Jordan commented on the situation.”
    It even took that long to communicate with FA’s while we were stranded and left with no help at all when this meltdown started.
    Both pilots and FA’s have a right to be Fed Up!

  9. Is Southwest using the old Eastern Airlines “System One” automation in place since the late 1960s/1970s?. This antiquated system has been a source of problems previously.

  10. It would sure be great if this sorry excuse for an airline went bankrupt and out of business. Horrible business model, airplanes and all around service

    1. It’s the only profitable airline so your wish is unlikely to be fulfilled. We have saved many tens of thousands of dollars using this sorry excuse for an airline.
      Reminds me of Churchill on democracy. Worst system of government ever except for all the others.

  11. FYI Bob – When your IT infrastructure becomes so overwhelmed that it can’t respond, its definitely a “technology event”.

    Robert K – Retired Program Manager Dell/EMC.

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